If it weren’t for the kibbutzim, there may not be an Israel.
Collective farms that combine Zionism with a brand of socialism recognizable to the members of Kurdish militias fighting against ISIS, just a few hundred miles away, kibbutzim helped draw idealist, like-minded Jews to remote areas of what was then still Palestine.
But then Israel became modern.
Working for peanuts (at times, literally) on a dusty stretch of isolated desert, while everyone else was living it up in the cities, lost its allure. Membership dwindled. Kibbutzim closed. Israel had already been willed into existence, but the need for kibbutzim was becoming a dream.
Yet they survived.
In recent years, involvement in kibbutzim is on a slight upswing—membership in 2012 was the highest it had been since the first kibbutz was founded in 1909, the Guardian reported at the time—but the movement is still in need of a shot in the arm to really gain momentum and rediscover relevance.
In other words, kibbutzim need weed.
Israel is currently marching steadily towards the title of “worldwide leader in the marijuana industry” thanks to its government, which has promised to allow the country to start exporting medical cannabis around the globe. (Never has Israel’s special-nation status with the United States, normally the enforcer of international treaties specifically prohibiting such a global weed trade, been so useful.) Numerous firms, small and large, have signed up for the Green Rush.
And since the ideal vision of an Emerald Triangle pot farm is probably something like a kibbutz—everyone working together in harmony, nobody sneaking buds from the larf pile,and no sharps from the city trying to work you over for a few cheaper pounds—cannabis is now part of the vision for the collectives’ future.
“This cannabis gold rush has to pan out for us,” said Eilon Bdil, business manager of Kibbutz Elifaz, in an interview with the Times of Israel. “There’s simply no other choice. We need young people with good minds to come here, and medical cannabis is what can draw them.”
Right now, involvement in medical marijuana in Israel is somewhat variegated.
Only 23,000 medical marijuana patients have state licenses from the Health Ministry, Reuters reported earlier this year, and they’re supplied by nine companies. At the same time, another 50 companies are working in the sector, doing research and attracting investment for products like high-tech inhalers.
Kibbutzim need believers as much as they need commodities—if not more so.
Although recent reforms have ended rigid structures of communal ownership and equal pay, kibbutzim still need members to volunteer for a life of communal living. For a kibbutz looking for new members, marijuana farming could be attractive as training for a new sector of the economy. And, believe it or not, many people across the world still passionately believe in cannabis as a healing product and possible world-beating fuel and fiber. In short, it has a built-in following.
As per the Times, several dozen kibbutzim are considering growing marijuana, but only Elifaz is actually doing so at the moment.
It’s been slow going: most of the farm’s income still comes from agricultural products like dates. Therein lies the problem. Weed may not sustain small farmers in America’s traditional pot-growing regions once corporations take hold. And they may not keep a kibbutz afloat.
“For those kibbutzim that don’t have money, medical cannabis is not going to be the answer,” said Hagai Hillman, a licensed marijuana grower who also runs a medical marijuana pharma-tech company. “To survive in this market, you need very deep pockets, and without vertical integration, you’re lost.”
“A lot of farmers think it’s like growing melons,” he added, striking deep at the heart of the matter. “But the future of this industry is medicalization.”
Other kibbutzim are eyeing marijuana as a convenient—and, indeed, necessary—ATM.
The 1980s saw Israel plunged into a debt crisis. Many kibbutzim had to empty what savings they had to stay afloat. That was fine when members were still of working age, but now—30 years later—they’d like to retire. Kibbutz Ruhama, near the Gaza Strip, is one kibbutz that voted to partner with a medical marijuana outfit specifically to replenish those pension funds.
In other words, kibbutzim are turning to cannabis out of needs wholly pragmatic and realistic in nature. In that way, they’re just like the rest of us.